Two Southern Conference teams with a total of nine NCAA Division I football titles between them have been named as the teams to beat in the 2011 College Sporting News Football Championship Subdivision Preseason Top 25 poll. CSN is the oldest and largest news service organization devoted solely to the FCS.
CHICAGO - Appalachian State, the winner of three consecutive national championships from 2005-07 and coming off two quarterfinal appearances and one semifinal finish in the past three years, is ranked No. 1 in 2011 in a poll conducted by the staff of CSN.
Finishing a close second to the Mountaineers is the resurgent Georgia Southern program, which advanced to the semifinals last season after missing the playoffs in the previous four years. The Eagles have won a record six FCS crowns, but none since 2000.
If the 2010 season showed the parity in the FCS, with Eastern Washington making a surprise run to the national championship, expect more of the same during 2011.
While some of the traditional FCS powers will be in the fight for a national championship this season, the battle for the top prize should once again be wide open.
The top 10 in the poll show the strength at the head of four powerhouse conferences in the FCS, the SoCon, the Colonial Athletic Association, the Big Sky Conference and the Missouri Valley Football Conference, with teams from those leagues capturing all 10 of the top slots.
Last year's national runner-up Delaware and CAA auto-bid recipient William & Mary are ranked third and fourth, while Eastern Washington and Montana State of the Big Sky, the co-champions of that league in 2010, are ranked in the fifth and sixth spots.
New Hampshire, a CAA team with an FCS-best streak of eight consecutive playoff berths, is seventh, followed by defending MVFC champion Northern Iowa, defending SoCon co-champion (with Appalachian State) Wofford, and North Dakota State of the MVFC.
North Dakota State pushed Eastern Washington to overtime in last year's playoffs before falling to the eventual national champion.
Finishing just out of the top-10 at No. 11 is Villanova, which won the 2009 national champion and advanced to the semifinals before losing to Eastern Washington last season.
Jacksonville State, which pulled off one of the biggest FCS upsets ever of a Football Bowl Subdivision team last season when it beat Mississippi in double overtime, is ranked 12th.
A member of the Ohio Valley Conference, JSU is the first team outside of the four powerhouse conferences to be ranked in the CSN poll this year.
Traditional power McNeese State is the highest ranked of three Southland Conference teams to make an appearance, at No. 13.
James Madison, which won a national championship in 2004 and stunned Virginia Tech last season is ranked 14th.
The Dukes were only the second team in FCS history to beat a ranked BCS opponent (joining Appalachian State with its 2007 win over Michigan) and gives the CAA five teams among the top 14 teams in the poll.
Two-time Ivy League champion Penn finishes out the top 15.
Defending Patriot League champion Lehigh is 16th, followed by Southern Illinois, one of three MVFC teams in the top 17.
Stephen F. Austin, the two-time Southland Conference champion, is at No. 18.
Montana, which saw its string of playoff appearances end at 17 and its streak of at least a share of 12 consecutive Big Sky titles also snapped, is ranked 19th as the Grizzlies try to regroup this season.
Liberty, with a share of four consecutive Big South crowns, begins the year at No. 20.
Finishing out the poll is the MVFC's fourth team, Western Illinois at No. 21, Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference at 22 and 23, Harvard of the Ivy League appears at 24, and Central Arkansas of the Southland Conference at 25.
College Sporting News 2011 Preseason Top 25
1. Appalachian State
2. Georgia Southern
4. William & Mary
5. Eastern Washington
6. Montana State
7. New Hampshire
8. Northern Iowa
10. North Dakota State
12. Jacksonville State
13. McNeese State
14. James Madison
17. Southern Illinois
18. Stephen F. Austin
21. Western Illinois
22. Florida A&M
25. Central Arkansas
Others receiving votes: Chattanooga, Colgate, Sam Houston State, Murray State, Southern Utah, Central Connecticut State, South Carolina State, Grambling, Robert Morris.